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The Playboy Conversation: Tegan & Sara

The Playboy Conversation: Tegan & Sara: Photo: Chris Buck

Photo: Chris Buck

The grey Vancouver sky hung above Tegan and Sara Quin as they marched into the recording studio one cold winter’s day in 2004. After a full day of guitar overdubs and recording vocals, the exhausted sisters took their usual seats, on the same old couch they had sat on for what seemed like an eternity while recording their fourth album. They bantered back and forth, then became silent. Staring at each other for a moment, they knew they had to settle on a title for the record.

They decided on So Jealous, chosen from Sara’s namesake song. The December 23rd re-release of the 10th anniversary edition from these now mainstream, LGBT supportive, indie pop rockers has them looking back on a time when life was more simplistic in certain ways, yet complex in others.

Today, these 33-year-old twins — and recent Oscar nominees, for their “Everything is Awesome” song on the LEGO Movie soundtrack — reflect on being an obscure indie band looking for visibility and respect, the personal and emotional turmoil emphasized in their songs, and how The White Stripes and Weezer bolstered their confidence when media tore them down.

Is it true that when you heard Sara’s work on So Jealous it made you feel more competitive, like you wanted to write stronger songs?
Tegan: Yes, absolutely. People always ask “Are you competitive? Do you two fight? Are you jealous of each other?” That’s so dumb. Why do people say that? I realized that…we weren’t Hollywood-style competitive with each other, but there is a healthy sense of raising the bar. Sara would play a song that I thought was exceptional [like] “Walking With A Ghost.” We were in a hotel room in Paris finishing up touring on our last record and she played me a demo. I was impressed and felt she leap-frogged me in terms of her capturing what she was trying to capture. “So Jealous” just sounded so different from anything we had ever written. It was really inspiring and made me go back and think [about] what I was writing and that I wanted to be a better writer.

There are a handful of your songs that didn’t make the album — will those ever be released?
Sara: Some of the songs I was writing about my ex, I just left off. I felt I had really injured her. It was a really challenging break up and I was putting out an album not long after that. It just felt an appropriate and protective thing to do. I’ve really thought about this a lot. At that point we were still an underground struggling band and it hadn’t really hit me, the gravity of writing about relationships and the inability for those people to not have any response. People only hearing one side of the story. So a lot of the material on So Jealous was written about the person with whom I was getting into a relationship with, because in my mind, those songs had an approval. With the other songs, I didn’t. Most of those songs Tegan and I talked about, that we argued over, I’m not releasing them. Now it has less to do with revealing personal things and more to do with I don’t think they’re very good. [Laughs]

Do the songs mean something different to you now?
Tegan: Oh God yeah. I mean we’ve sung them so many times. We’ve had an emotional evolution looking back now. We were so young, sweet, naïve, and romantic. Unlike bands that spend five, six years, toiling in their basements thinking about releasing a record, we released music as soon as we started writing it. I think So Jealous feels like the first Tegan & Sara record because we were starting to get a handle on our instruments and on songs. When I was listening back to it, at 23 years old, I think we were writing really great songs and uncovering that ability.

Sara: You know I think there was, obviously, a major shift in my life, not just from moving cross country and breaking up, but I had started a relationship with someone who was unavailable. There was a little bit of a desperation or longing happening in my life, so, I can look back at “Walking with a Ghost” and hear that. It’s funny though, I just feel very detached from the original meaning. It’s interesting with the 10-year anniversary to have to look back and talk about what was an incredibly emotional song for me.

How did the White Stripes covering “Walking With A Ghost” affect you?
Sara: I was very happy to be in the Indie scene and I read Pitchfork everyday. I wanted to be considered amongst those people who, at that time, felt like my peers. I felt that without credibility or recognition from those people we hadn’t made it. When So Jealous came out, Pitchfork reviewed that record, but they just mutilated it, and I remember thinking, “God, I don’t know what’s worse, them ignoring us or them hating us.”

The White Stripes thing came pretty quickly after that first wave of press, and I remember thinking, “Here’s a band that I really admire, and has the respect and admiration of people I think are important.” Because they covered the song, it was a bit of a band-aid for me at the time: “At least they liked the song even if everyone else thinks it’s shit.” It felt good. It helped since people didn’t like the record or the song.

Do you have fond memories looking back of Weezer’s Matt Sharp performing with you on So Jealous?
Tegan: We got to know Matt a year before making So Jealous and toured a bit with him. We are huge fans of Weezer, huge fans of The Rentals. A huge step for our band to have someone from the mainstream rock community, especially a man, come in and say we were writing great pop songs and that he wanted to be involved with the record. We’ve always believed in being a collaborative duo our whole lives. Sara and I are very good at sharing. I think one of the things he did was encourage us to continue to develop our own skills and I really love him for that.

Do you ladies still experience homophobia professionally or in your personal lives?
Sara: Absolutely. Even in our own career, looking back on the press for So Jealous 10 years ago, it was hard for me to read it again because I feel, we were being viewed through such a specific lens. Within the first sentence or two, we were always referred to as “lesbians.” Our sexuality was always at the forefront of everything we did and I felt it was being used to diminish what we were doing. Certainly it put us in a marginal category were I felt as women, and as queer women, we were being viewed in a way that felt diminishing. There are interviews, conversations at radio stations, and everyday interactions that [still] make me wanna pull my hair out, but there are also amazing ones, or situations where we are accepted without any kind of caveat of, like, “Well, this is my favorite gay artist.” It sounds insane, but there was a time when I thought the only thing we could be good at was when we were being compared to other gay people. Like “Oh, it’s the best of gay music.” It was infuriating and so stressful. I think it’s wonderful in the world we are in currently in, where we don’t have to be afraid of our sexuality, or ignore it, or not talk about it — but we don’t have to constantly be talking about it.


Michele McManmon is a freelance writer/photographer who works with LA Weekly, Palm Springs Life Magazine, Paste, Amazon Music Blog and now Playboy. View more at www.dominoartz.com.


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